A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
The word alone is enough to strike fear into the heart of any writer. I mean come on, it has the word dead it in for crying out loud! (And lines, which is distinctly less scary but still, I doubt anyone ever gushes about just how much they like … lines.)
But the truth is, deadlines are an inescapable part of a writer’s life. Even more than that, I’d say they are pretty necessary. Of course all writers work differently, but for me I set myself deadlines even when I don’t really have to have them – out of contract for example, when I’m working on a new book that has yet to be sold, or when I hadn’t yet been published and was writing my first novel. Because while deadlines are scary, the thought of facing writing life without them is rather darn scary too.
Maybe this has something to do with momentum. So many authors I’ve talked to – and perhaps you will agree – find that momentum plays an important role in their writing. Not necessarily speed or ginormous word counts, but just that constant pressing on, working on something consistently, little by little (or big by big if that’s more your style), and keeping on until your goal. I find that when I’ve been away from my story for even just a few days, especially when it comes to first drafts, it takes so much effort to get back into it. There’s a real sense of pushing. Whereas if I’ve been writing away for weeks the words somehow seem to fall easier onto the page.
So hopefully you’ll see how deadlines can be useful. They give us motivation in what is typically a very solitary practice and put what seems like a terrifying task (writing a book! A whole one! Tens – even hundreds – of thousands of words!) into a tangible framework that helps our minds grasp it better. Yet at the same time they can be crippling. The thought of having to force so many words out in a set amount of time when you’re already busy enough as it is with jobs, social and family life etc is pretty scary too. Therefore it’s important to figure out how to use deadlines in a way that works for you.
Here are my three steps to creating and working to manageable deadlines!
Step 1. Be realistic
If you don’t already have a deadline set for you, you’ve first got to figure out what the actual deadline you want to set yourself is. Of course this depends on what stage of the writing process you’re at and how you work. Let’s say we’re talking about a first draft, which for me is the most useful time to have a deadline as you really just need to get the words out, figure out what story it is you’re actually trying to tell, and the polishing of the actual words comes later.
I’m at this stage myself right now with my new young adult book. I’m giving myself a deadline of end of May to get it done (my previous books were written in 4 months, so predicting the total word count will be similar and allowing myself some leeway time for illness, busy work periods etc this seems sensible). Have a think about how long you’d like to give yourself and do add some extra time, just in case. You want to feel motivated, not pressured.
Step 2. Break it up
Ok, so you’ve decided you’re going to write a book in five months. AMAZING. We’re all behind you. But wait up a moment – what does that actually mean? How many words is that a month? A week? Writing a book is a big undertaking, so it helps to break it up into more manageable chunks. I’m aiming for a first draft of around 120k (don’t worry, it’ll be cut down later! But I know my first drafts run long so am accounting for this). I’ve already done 20k, so the remaining work is split into 20k words a month, which is 5k a week. Phew, that already seems like a more realistic goal! Not giving myself daily goals allows a sense of freedom too. If there are days I’m working too long to fit any writing in, I won’t feel like I’ve failed. But you can do these too if it works for you!
That’s what it’s all really about. Not just working for your deadlines, but figuring out how to make them work for you.
Step 3. Don’t be too hard on yourself
You’ve got your deadline in place. You know what goals you should be hitting each week/month/day. You’re ready. You’re pumped. And then … something happens to get in your way. Maybe many things happen. Maybe they’re external factors that physically stop you from writing, or something within you that decides it’s just not going to be your day. The important thing here is to not force yourself too hard. It’s a quick route to exhaustion. Listen to your body, your mind, and know when to push on and when to say, you know what? I think I’ll give myself some time off. To me this is one of the most important parts of working to deadlines. Be kind on yourself. Allow yourself to pause.
Something to remember – success is the combination of work and rest. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Happy New Year sweethearts, and good luck with all your writing goals! If you’ve got some tips for dealing with deadlines do share them in the comments below – I’d love to hear them! x
Natasha is a YA writer represented by Nicola Barr at Greene & Heaton. Since graduating from the University of Cambridge with a Geography degree in 2011, she has been working as a social media consultant and blogger, running top UK fashion blog Girl in the Lens with her photographer boyfriend, and has effectively swapped sleep for writing. Her novels THE ELITES and THE MEMORY KEEPERS are published by Hot Key Books.